Here’s a layman’s analysis of the correlation between Gorgui Dieng’s fouling and Louisville’s success. I wrote it after the USF game so it doesn’t incorporate any stats from the Dome Disaster.
As Louisville fans struggle to rationalize the team’s unexpected slump in the wake of the senior night USF loss, this analysis turns its attention to a sophomore who may hold the key to a successful rally. Watching Zach Price and Jared Swopshire struggle with USF’s frontcourt only reinforced the sense that Gorgui Dieng has become the team’s most indispensible player. Season-ending injuries to big men have left Rick Pitino with no dependable backup at the center position, and Dieng is tasked with playing as close to 40 minutes as he can in each game. Gorgui has stepped up to the challenge in almost every aspect––he’s distinguished himself as one of the most improved sophomores in the country, who has doubled his rebound and scoring production from his freshman campaign and leads the Big East in blocks. Furthermore, it’s impossible to quantify how dramatically this Louisville team’s performance––especially on defense––can drop off with Dieng on the bench.
Unfortunately, he also leads the conference in fouls, and has fouled out of five games, which is tied for the most in the Big East. As disturbing as the foul statistics are, they don’t offer any nuanced insight into how the timing and context of the fouls affects Gorgui’s game. So with that in mind, let’s crunch some figures in hopes of painting a more complete portrait of Dieng’s foul issues.
I used the meticulously compiled game data from StatSheet.com to analyze Dieng’s game-by-game production, as well as the time elapsed in each game before he received his second and fourth foul. I then looked for possible correlations between foul timing, individual production and game outcome. Here are the basic results:
• Dieng has played at least 30 minutes in 20 games.
• He’s accumulated three or more fouls in 23 games; 4 or more in 15.
• The Cards are 5-6 when Gorgui has at least two fouls before halftime, and 13-2 when he makes it to intermission with zero or one foul.
• On average, he picks up his second foul after 20.3 minutes of game time (15 minutes in losses; 22 in wins).
• Dieng’s points, rebounds and blocks averages are significantly lower in games in which he has two or more fouls before halftime.
• During his team’s six-game Big East winning streak, he received his second foul before halftime only once.
• Since the loss to Syracuse, he’s accumulated two first-half fouls in three of four games.
The most startling observation is that there’s a very strong correlation between when Dieng picks up his second foul and the outcome of the game. When he makes it to halftime with less than 2 fouls, the Cards are 13-2 (.867 winning percentage). But when he accumulates 2+ fouls before intermission, the team’s record plummets to 5-6 (.455). This trend is especially obvious since conference play opened at the end of December: over that period, the Cards are 2-6 (.250 percentage) when Gorgui has two first-half fouls. The elapsed time statistics reiterate this point: in their combined losses, Dieng picked his second foul after 15.7 minutes of game time on average; in 20 wins he avoided it for 22.4 minutes.
This correlation is much more consistent than any between the time of Gorgui’s fourth foul and his team’s success. However, Dieng did pick up fourth fouls in road losses to Kentucky, Marquette and Cincinnati. While these games presented three of the season’s most imposing frontcourt matchups, this may also be indicative of less favorable treatment on the road for the Senegalese big man. This is surely something to bear in mind when the Cards travel to the Carrier Dome, Madison Square Garden and NCAA tournament destinations beyond.
I also looked at StatSheet’s NBA-inspired Roland ratings for Dieng in each game this season. The Roland formula measures a team’s net points while a certain player is on the bench, and then subtracts that figure from the net points while he’s in the game. It’s intended to estimate a player’s significance to his team. Gorgui had the third highest average Roland rating on the team (following Kuric and Siva), but his rating is noticeably higher in games where he had two or more fouls by halftime. One interpretation is that this confirms the defensive vacuum he leaves in the paint when he’s on the bench. For example, 17 of USF’s 58 points came in the eight minutes that Dieng was off the court.
Some of these conclusions might seem contrived or obvious, but the statistics are stark. The difference between a second foul at the 18:00 minute mark and the 22:00 minute mark tangibly alters Gorgui’s performance and U of L’s chance of success. If this team is to mount a March rally, one of the most important adjustments will be controlling Dieng’s foul situation in the first half.